As I stared at the calendar wondering how it could be August already, I realized that in a little over a month I’ll be staring down my last year of my thirties.
So I’ve decided that I’m going to start looking back on the past nine years or so (since I’ve earned my PhD), and look at what was good and bad–but also what lessons I can now take from those years. So my first reflection is on the twisting road I’ve taken through academia, and realizing that I need to reboot and plan for my industry transition.
I realized that it has been nine years since I finished graduate school—I had made a promise to myself that I would have my graduate degree before (or shortly after) my thirtieth birthday. I managed to keep that promise—I defended a little over two months before my birthday, and I got my diploma before the end of the year. I then spent the next two years out in the Boston area.
Being out in the Boston area for a little over two years was a mix bag of both good and bad—it was good in that I made new friendships (that I’ve been trying to maintain online, as I haven’t been back there as often as I would have liked), experienced living on my own, well away from having a family security net, and started to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Though on the flip side, the bad included: my postdoctoral position ending on a extreme sour note, unintentionally giving my dog an anxiety/separation disorder, and at the end of the time—being in heavily in debt and emotionally bankrupt.
I came back home to get my financial and emotional feet back on steady ground—and it’s taken quite a few years to accomplish those feats—almost seven to be exact. I am no longer heavily in debt (my monthly debt now can be paid off each month), and I’m still working on getting my emotional/spiritual reserves filled up.
During the past six and a half years, I’ve held three different positions within my alma mater department, at my alma mater. I started with a post-doc position (this was fairly smooth compared to my first, though any situation can head south when funding becomes an issue), then after a brief unemployment period I got a staff position helping with undergraduate research (this as a little over three years; ended again because of funding), and then after yet another unemployment period I got my most current staff position.
In total over the past nine years (since getting my PhD)—I’ve been unemployed probably a total of nine (maybe ten) months—which averages out to about a month per year. But also over the past nine years—I’ve taken jobs that may not have been the best fit for me (first postdoc, and most current position) because of the fact I needed a job and income.
This is one of the main reasons why I’m so adamant about doing my reboot break/pause towards the end of the year and into the beginning of next year—I need to figure out what it is I want to do with my life. I’ve learned little things over the past nine years in terms of what I can put up with, what I can’t put up with, and what I would like in the next job.
For starters, I miss working as part of a team—or at least being around other people with whom I could have conversations with during the day. In my current position, we’re in a secure facility (so unless you have access, you can’t get in), and there aren’t that many people in the facility (five in total, counting myself; though there are two graduate students—but they aren’t actually within the facility (in other words they don’t work in the inner lab). I miss being able to talk with people while I’m doing things or inquiring what they’re doing (and learning a little at the same time). I’ve also realized that I don’t do well with micromanagers (and this is something that I will need to inquire with people about during informational interviews), and overbearing colleagues.
I also miss doing actual research at the bench, but at the same time—is that how I really feel or is it because that is all I’ve ever done? This is something that I will need to see how I feel during and after my reboot break—also this is a good informational interview question for people who have moved away from the bench—do they miss doing research?
I don’t mind doing an occasional long day or working a weekend in lab—as long as I’m compensated for it (in other words having a good income), and knowing that it isn’t expected daily. I also want to be within a group, that once someone apologizes for a mistake, the apology is accepted and everyone moves on—it isn’t harped upon constantly. Also I don’t want to be within a company where there is someone watching the clock to make sure that people are leaving exactly at a certain time (say 5 o’clock on the dot)—if you get in a little early, you should be able to leave a little early—but if you need to stay a little late, you’re allowed to stay a little late. In other words—I want a job with a little flexibility on the work hours.
Life shouldn’t be all work and no play, just like it shouldn’t be all play and no work—there should be a point where things are somewhat balanced—there is time for both work and play, but that balance is different for each of us, and each need to find it on their own.
Hopefully during the reboot break, I can work through various e-courses, interact more on Linkedin, network, set up informational interviews and actually decide on a direction to go–instead of wandering around a swamp with a lantern that is going to be going dark and risk falling into the swamp waters again (and possibly not escape this time).